Recovery Bus, Who’s On Yours?

by Paul Bedson
Spring 2013 Living Well Magazine

At The Gawler Cancer Foundation, we encourage you to move into the driver’s seat of your own cancer recovery ‘bus’.  On the front of the bus is the destination that you want for yourself and your family. You need to exercise your discrimination regarding who you want on your recovery bus. Negative people, personal or professional, may have to be politely ‘kicked off’ the bus or asked to sit up the back and behave themselves. Having said that, you shouldn’t be driving an empty bus. The bus can be filled with positive people who support the destination marked on the front of the recovery bus.

For people living with cancer and their families, hope is not just a psychological luxury, it is a biological imperative. Research has shown that for cancer patients, hope improves both quality of life and quantity of life (prognosis). But hope has to be distinguished from wishful thinking or ‘global optimism.’ The hope that improves prognosis is the belief that the individual can affect their cancer outcomes, by having a focus, and by taking appropriate action.

The three most negative psychological signs for people living with cancer are feelings of: loss of hope, loss of control and unwanted aloneness. These signs are associated with depression, anxiety and social isolation, which are not good prognostic indicators – they suppress the immune system. The signs of an improved outcome are: having a plan, having a team and feeling like the captain of the team. Empowerment of the individual and a positive support network will help with every aspect of the cancer challenge.

Some cancer patients find it difficult to ask for help and/or to receive support from others, but now is the time to allow yourself to be supported. It helps to clearly communicate what support you need and what you don’t need. An effective support network can help you to conserve energy, to stay focussed on your destination while your supporters can restore hope if it fades.

So, what people and roles make up an effective, comprehensive support network? Your support network can consist of family members, close friends, acquaintances and a range of health, healing and wellbeing professionals. 

What supportive roles can your family and friends provide? Here are some suggestions:

Healthy nutrition:

  • help with sourcing healthy, fresh organic food
  • help with juicing, cooking and cleaning up. Be clear about what you are eating and what you are not eating.

Healthy environment:

  • help with housework and gardening
  • help with creating and maintaining a quiet, conducive space for relaxation and meditation; perhaps meditating with you
  • help with answering and filtering out messages and phone calls
  • help with financial management, banking and paying bills.

Healthy Exercise: 

  • assistance with finding a gym, exercise class, walking group
  • providing transport to the class and then exercising or walking with you

Healthy emotions and mind: 

  • a confidante who you can open up to and share your vulnerable feelings
  • some friends with whom you can share a laugh and/or gain inspiration
  • share the job of researching treatments and other options
  • a medical appointment buddy to ask questions and record information
  • someone to give you a hug

Healthy Spirit:

  • people to pray with you or for you
  • someone to attend a church or healing workshop with you
  • someone who you can talk to about the big issues of meaning and purpose in your life and issues of death and dying

What is most important from the family and friends’ support network is the feeling of being fully oneself with someone else; being open and authentic. To be able to show that you are fragile and vulnerable, as well as strong and determined. To be able to laugh but also to be able to cry. To feel that your emotions are understood, respected and important to the support people; and to have some warm physical contact.

As well as your family and friends, your support network can include outside groups, organisations and health professionals. You may have to pay for their services but they have been trained to provide specific support. Here are some suggestions:

  • Counsellor
  • Doctor
  • Natural therapist
  • Yoga or Qigong teacher
  • Massage therapist
  • Support group
  • Church or temple
  • Pain-management clinic

Research has also shown that emotional support can come from domestic pets, so there may be room for a few animals on your recovery ‘bus’.

People with cancer work closely, and often for a long period of time, with their G.P. This relationship is a key element in the healing process. You need a medical advisor who is broadly trained and fairly open-minded. Above all, you should seek a G.P. and an oncologist who respect your decisions and will continue to support you no matter what treatment options you choose. If this type of supportive relationship is not possible with your oncologist, then make extra efforts to find a G.P. with whom you feel confident and comfortable.

Achieving the best possible outcome when responding to the cancer diagnosis requires commitment and support. This is not a do-it-yourself project. Developing healthy, supportive relationships, and allowing yourself to be supported, may be one of the healing opportunities of the cancer journey. After all, we are relational beings who thrive in relationship. Of course, our hope is that you see The Gawler Cancer Foundation as an important resource in your support network too!